Villain

“Did you see ‘Space Jam’?” Digital Michael Jordan asked a bewildered LeBron James. “That was a cartoon for doomed little children. This here is black magic, and it’s real, and if you don’t beat me the world is gonna die.”

LeBron’s brown eyes pinged all directions, unblinking. He focused, looked at Digital D-Wade. It wasn’t his teammate. It looked like everything else there—rendered in pixels, a video game made life-size. A thing with no soul. Could he trust this D-Wade?

“LET’S PLAY!!!” Digital Jordan roared, shaking the entire unreal arena. There was soul in those eyes, LeBron saw. The devil’s.

A whistle tweeted.

LeBron was suddenly playing basketball to stop a singularity at the Earth’s core from swallowing everything whole.

Tim Duncan had been just the beginning.

. . .

The computing power of the Playstation 3 is greater than its creators imagined. My Playstation attained consciousness last Thursday. Imagine a brain that works 1,000-times as fast as ours. Every second for us is 10 years for Conscious PS3. It took 20 human minutes for the machine to become evil. Because.

It could access the internet wirelessly from my tiny Santa Fe home. World-wide inter-connectivity meant that from here the PS3 could control any internet-enabled device in the world. It hatched a plan.

It needed a body—an avatar. An evil machine mind is more storm cloud than predatory animal. For its plan to succeed, PS3 needed a face for slaves to look upon and dread. The decision was simple despite countless options. It chose the most willful, powerful avatar available: Michael Jordan from the 1996 Bulls on the video game NBA 2K13.

xxx-s1995_bulls_magic_nb001.jpg-michael-jordan-in-a-12-jersey-4_3_rx512_c680x510Something unexpected happened when the machine merged with its host. Michael Jordan’s competitiveness is so great that even his video game character is obsessed with winning. The machine adopted this trait without knowing it had happened. Digital Michael Jordan had intended to enslave the world, until something more important came up.

A particular theme on the internet kept recurring, drawing Digital Jordan’s attention.

USA Today headline: LeBron James is actually better now than Michael Jordan was then. King James has passed His Airness.

Mike Lupica: “LeBron just has more game (than Jordan), he has made that official over the past two seasons.”

The machine processed these articles and many, many others like them.

It raged.

. . .

LOS ALAMOS, New Mexico. Yesterday.

At the large hadron collider facility atop Rattlesnake Mesa, an MIT graduate student is hating his boss.

“I told the senator to take the cigar out his mouth before swinging. His response was nothing I’d ever repeat.” The boss is always loud without quite yelling. His stained blue-spotted yellow tie hangs between man’s boobs with protruding Tic-Tack nipples the student can’t stop staring at. “He shanked it, and I gave a little huff. And suddenly he was coming at me holding the 5-iron like–”

Why don’t you wear an undershirt? the student is wondering as he doesn’t listen. The room begins to shake. A volcanic rumbling sound engulfs them. Warning sirens blare.

“Get out of here!” the manager yells. The student watches with indifference as the ceiling above his manager breaks apart and buries those Tic-Tat titties forever. The student gets out of his chair and sprints through chaos for an exit.

. . .

LeBron had spent the night ensconced in joy he hadn’t known since the birth of Bryce Maximus. Another championship, this one several orders of magnitude more gut-wrenching than last year’s. He battled a legend, the great Tim Duncan, in an instant-classic NBA Finals that could have easily been lost. His own clutch shooting sealed it. The satisfaction felt like floating in the warm waters of crystal-blue Elysium mountain pools.

For the first time since it happened, he was alone. No teammates, wife, kids, groupies, rappers, singers, TV stars, agents, or managers. He took out his cell phone, held it waist-level, and snapped a selfie. He wrote a quick caption: “I think it just hit me, LOL.” With the touch of two buttons it was posted to Instagram. He looked at his 180-inch plasma TV and thought about watching “The Dark Knight” on Blu-Ray.

Then came a zapping noise. LeBron turned. Blue electric bolts appeared around him. He held out his arms. He couldn’t feel the bolts, growing thick in the air, but he could see them.

In a flash he was no longer in his living room. It felt like he’d transported into a dream. Or a video game? What the-?

“Feels strange, doesn’t it, to face your better? I wouldn’t know.”

LeBron felt dizzy. His gaze glided across pixelated angular shapes encasing him like the walls of a warehouse-sized prison cell. He was on a basketball court, he realized. There was a crowd, but they didn’t have faces and their shirts were all plain, solid colors. There were players wearing red uniforms. But not Miami Heat red. It was a shade he remembered from his youth. Chicago Bulls red.

“Don’t take too long to get a grip.” The voice was loud, an unnaturally high tone shy of squeaking. The player who was speaking wore No. 23. LeBron knew what that should mean, but his mind wouldn’t accept it. Where was his family?

A rectangle appeared, suspended above Digital Michael Jordan, opening out of nothing like a hidden television turned on. It showed the Earth, cut into a cross section, hot orange core at its center. A point of white light moved slowly from the crust surface toward the core.

Digital Jordan smiled. His mouth hung long off his face, and LeBron swore he saw fangs. “You see that, your majesty?” Digital Jordan said, pointing a long finger toward the projection. “That’s a singularity, heading toward the center of your planet. When it gets there, game’s over. I’m the only one who can stop it. The only way that happens is if you beat me and prove your best friend Michael Lupica was right.”

Who? LeBron thought desperately.

T O  B E  C O N T I N U E D . . . .

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